Hadya Abdul Satar, ’13, does not have her medical degree — yet — but while doing research and conducting interviews in hospitals in Kabul, Afghanistan this summer, women referred to her as “doctor.”

This, Abdul Satar explains, is because of a major difference in the Afghani education system and the American education system. Instead of applying to an undergraduate program after high school, Afghani students apply directly to graduate programs or medical school. Because they don’t have a concept of undergraduate-level education, they called her “Dr. Hadya.”

“It was really nice,” Abdul Satar says, laughing. “But I felt like I was lying to and confusing them."

Abdul Satar was in Kabul to examine the role of women in Afghan society over the past 20 years and, more specifically, how it has changed in pre-war and post-war Afghanistan. The misaddress ultimately aided Abdul Satar, a Bonner Scholar and Global Heath and Human Rights major, as she was doing her research by enabling her to encourage women to be honest with her, as she had no affiliation with an institution or group.

The openness of the women was critical, but Abdul Satar also had personal experiences to draw on when researching. Her family is originally from Afghanistan, where her mother was a doctor and many of her relatives still live, but escaped to Moscow when she was much younger. Her family then applied for resettlement through the United Nations and was accepted by the United States as permanent residents when Abdul Satar was a sophomore in high school.

She says that her mother’s generation was able to get a higher education, go to universities, and earn a degree, but when Abdul Satar went back, she noticed that it was much harder for women in her own generation to achieve. She believes this is largely because of financial problems, and because the current education system is very different than it was 20 years ago.

Abdul Satar also had the chance to look at her former homeland through a new lens. She describes the climate as, “very different than you usually see in the media.” While she was in Kabul, she says she didn’t hear anything about conflicts or violence in the city. She didn’t see any military tanks, either.

When asked if research about this topic was as accessible in Afghanistan as it was in America, Abdul Satar says that it was easier in Afghanistan. She wanted to actually go and experience it for herself in order to have background information for her paper.

“It’s hard to write about something that you’ve never seen,” she says. “It’s just dry theory if you haven’t actually experienced it.”

Abdul Satar stayed with cousins she had not seen in 15 years, which made the research and her month living there even more personal. This strong connection to Afghanistan has led Abdul Satar to seriously consider a job there someday.

“I’m a senior, and you know, each year it feels like it’s gotten harder and harder to answer the question of, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’” she says. “When I was a freshman I would have said that I’m hoping to go to medical school, but now I’m hoping to work with a nonprofit. I’m hoping to see myself with a master’s degree or M.D.”

The biggest thing she learned while in Afghanistan and while at Richmond was that she wants to do more for people, whether it’s in medicine or helping them assimilate to their homeland.

“It was very eye-opening,” she says. “I’m hoping to apply to jobs there. I really want to stay connected to Afghanistan because it’s basically my homeland — or one of them at least.”